Israel’s Gaza Situation Becomes Cyber War

Social media changes the zeitgeist in ways we couldn’t have imagined. As we saw with the recent presidential election, opinions and attacks now travel at the speed of light. And so it should be no surprise that the ongoing Middle East conflict in Gaza between the Palestinians and Israelis has escalated into a Cyber war.

While the conflict may seem like history repeating itself, social media is actually changing the way the public sees the violence. As several news agencies have reported,Israel is now using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to its advantage in its war with Hamas in Gaza. In the past Israel has had to rely upon mainstream news agencies to report on the back-and-forth actions in Gaza, but now the Israeli military and government can take its message straight to the people using its social networks.

As the LA Times reported today:

While Israel launched its surprise attack Wednesday on Gaza, it declared it to the world on Twitter, arguing its case for the new campaign against Hamas in less than 140 characters.

Minute by minute, the Israel Defense Forces fed followers information and arguments on the strike. At their computers, Internet users could click through aerial photos, check updates on the offensive and watch a YouTube video of the strike killing the Hamas military chief.

At one point, the Israeli military traded Twitter barbs with Hamas. “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead,” the @IDFSpokesperson account tweeted Wednesday.

The Hamas military wing tweeted back, “Our blessed hands will reach your leaders and soldiers wherever they are (You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves).”

Israel Defense Forces Twitter Account

Social media isn’t new to the IDF, but the way it’s now using such sites as Twitter is new and will likely become the way nation-states will operate in military conflicts. It is clear that the chief spokesman of the IDF, Yoav Mordechai, believes that tweeting the operation in Gaza is a good weapon in its hasbara (public relations) struggle. Israel has always been challenged by negative PR in the mainstream media. Mordechai’s office even used Twitter to send a warning to its Hamas enemies, tweeting, “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.” The IDF’s Twitter feed has been continually updated with news, pictures and videos from the front lines using the Twitter “hashtag” #PillarOfDefense. Perhaps the Cyber war really became a reality when Hamas’ military wing responded with return fire on Twitter, tweeting back, “You Opened Hell Gates on Yourselves.”

In addition to the IDF’s new found use of Twitter, sites like YouTube (operated by Google) have had to navigate their way through the new murky waters of whether the postings by the IDF of their military operations are deemed “kosher” according to its own terms of service agreement. Originally Google yanked a video posted by the Israeli military Wednesday, which showed the “pinpoint strike” that killed Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari in his car. YouTube originally had a message on the removed video stating, “This clip has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service. Sorry about that.”

However, YouTube apparently changed its corporate mind and allowed the video to be shown. A company spokesperson explained, “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.” Most likely enough anti-Israel YouTube users had flagged the video triggering a review process until someone at YouTube could view the video in question and make the decision. By reinstating the video, YouTube opened up a whole new front in this war.

Israel Defense Forces Facebook Page

In taking the Middle East conflict to the Web, the opportunity for hacking has also been escalated. So it was no surprise early yesterday morning when a hacker group called “Anonymous” announced a mission to crash and deface websites belonging to the IDF, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli websites belonging to security and financial corporations. Using Twitter, the hacking group urged its followers to bring down more than 40 websites belonging to the Israeli government and military.

In a statement, the hackers stated, “We will do everything in our power to hinder the evil forces of the IDF arrayed against you. We will use all our resources to make certain you stay connected to the Internet and remain able to transmit your experiences to the world.” Already the hacker group has claimed to have taken down Israeli’s “top security and surveillance website.” They also released a “care package” with tools for staying online if the Israeli government cuts off Internet access in Gaza. Another hacker group called Telecomix posted a message online with instructions on how to use dial-up Internet to stay connect if the Web is shut down. According to Forbes.com, most of the Anonymous’ target websites were still online.

Another new front of the Middle East war in Gaza has been the public discourse on social networking sites. As soon as the conflict escalated advocates on both sides of the conflict began using Facebook to show their support. Pro-Israel supporters began simply updating their Facebook status with the Hebrew words עם ישראל חי (Am Yisra’el Chai) meaning “The nation of Israel lives.” Other Facebook and Twitter users reposted news reports of the direct hit on the Gaza leader and reminded their followers that the news coverage of the conflict has not accurate covered the escalation as thousands of missiles had already been fired into Israel from Gaza. Yesterday, in a show of support many users on Facebook began posting photos of IDF soldiers from visits to the Jewish homeland.

On Twitter, #Gaza and #Jerusalem have been trending off and on over the past few days and many heated back-and-forth conversations have taken place on the site. The IDF’s Flickr site has also seen a huge uptick in traffic with many users reposting photos from that stream to their own Pinterest boards. Additionally, the IDF’s Facebook page has noticed a sharp increase in fans approaching a quarter million. The IDF page’s recent status was “Shabbat Shalom from the IDF. We won’t be able to rest until we bring quiet to Israel.”

The long-simmering conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will be the first test of the social media zeitgeist. Newspapers and television news outlets are still relevant, but this will go down as the first war that was also played out in real time on the Web. In the social media era, anyone and everyone can become a reporter. And the millions of vehement opinions will likely only raise the heat of this escalating conflict.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at the Jewish Week

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Revolutionizes the Birthday Greeting

Hallmark Cards, Inc. estimates that greeting card sales have plummeted from 6 billion to 5 billion annually over the past decade. Earlier this month, the nation’s top greeting card maker announced it will close a plant that made one-third of its greeting cards and terminate over 300 jobs.

This news should come as no surprise for Facebook users who use the social networking site to wish friends “Happy Birthday” or leave a comment of condolence after the death of a loved one. Facebook now boasts 1 billion users world-wide, and for many of those users the custom of offering birthday greetings has changed.

Humans have been wishing each other birthday greetings for millennia. Even in the Torah there is mention of a birthday celebration (Pharaoh), but over the years, the way in which we mark each other’s birthday milestones has changed. Never has this change been as drastic as in recent years as Facebook usage has increased exponentially. While individuals still send paper birthday cards to close friends and relatives on their birthday, many transitioned to online greeting cards as the Web developed. (Hallmark’s main rival company, American Greetings, is adding jobs now because of its move to online birthday cards.) Picking up the phone to call our best friends and relatives on their birthday is still practiced, but it is also now acceptable to send an email or text message of birthday greetings as well.

Where Facebook has become the “killer app” and disruptor in the culture of sending birthday greetings is in its birthday feature on the sidebar. Each day beginning at midnight Facebook updates the birthday events box on each user’s sidebar alerting the user to birthdays being celebrated on that day. Prior to this feature individuals had to rely on their own information in an address book or birthdays manually inputted into a calendar. These daily reminders are appreciated by active Facebook users as forgetting birthdays is now mostly a thing of the past.

At first Facebook simply listed the friends celebrating birthdays on that day in the sidebar box, but within the past couple years the company realized how prevalent the custom of posting birthday greetings on friends’ Facebook Walls had become and instituted a simpler way of posting. Now users are given a text box next to each birthday celebrant’s name to easily leave a birthday greeting or wish. Past and future birthdays are also listed on the Facebook user’s calendar. Earlier this month, Facebook began showing friends’ birthdays at the top of its mobile site with a gift icon next to the birthday celebrant’s name. Clicking through this icon allows the user to send a birthday gift with Facebook taking a cut of the profit.

With Facebook’s assistance people are now wishing “Happy Birthday” to people whose birthdays they historically wouldn’t have acknowledged (long lost elementary school classmates and former colleagues), but some say it hasn’t changed the way they still mark the milestones of close friends. “Facebook doesn’t change the way I handle birthdays I always acknowledged in the past, but I still like to send paper birthday cards to my close family and a few friends. But I do offer birthday greetings to many of my Facebook friends — it takes but a moment, and I think they enjoy it,” said Bobbie Lewis of Oak Park.

Jacob Zuppke of Bloomfield Hills also uses Facebook to wish his large cohort of Facebook connections a birthday wishes. “Facebook reminds me every day someone is getting older. There are very few birthdays I store in my calendar, but with Facebook, I never miss a birthday.” Zuppke acknowledges that the standard Facebook birthday greeting can be impersonal. “I use Facebook as a calendar for birthdays. If I see it is someone close to me, I will call them or find a way to visit them. I don’t use Facebook to actually communicate with anyone close to me for a special day.”

Joey Niskar, an attorney who lives in West Bloomfield, has made the offering of birthday wishes via Facebook part of his daily regimen. “Every day, I check the automatic birthday notifications provided by Facebook and send a nice happy birthday wish to each Facebook friend celebrating a birthday on that particular day. For the other Facebook friends who may be old friends, a happy birthday wish via Facebook is very meaningful.”

RESPONDING TO BIRTHDAYS

What is the protocol in responding to the barrage of birthday wishes Facebook users now receive annually? Lewis explained, “For those who send Facebook birthday greetings to me, I usually offer a generic response to all unless the birthday message is something more interesting and personal than “Happy Birthday.’ I know some people dislike this aspect of Facebook, but I don’t mind it.” For Zuppke, with over 3,000 Facebook connections including many he doesn’t know or speak with on a regular basis, responding with one mass message at the end of the day thanking the group as a whole is sufficient.

When it is Sherry Kanter’s birthday she simply acknowledges friends’ greetings with the ‘Like’ button. “I try to respond personally to as many as I can. It is a great way to keep in touch with people,” the Huntington Woods resident said.

“I think most people have come to realize that a group thank you at the end of the day or the next morning is quite appropriate,” reasoned Dave Henig of Sylvan Lake. “With the volume of wishes that I assume most people get, it becomes impractical to respond individually.”

OTHER GREETINGS ON FACEBOOK

Birthday wishes may be the most common form of greeting on Facebook, but the site is used to offer other forms of milestone greetings as well. From engagements and weddings to new babies and wedding anniversaries, millions of Facebook users share their news with their networks on the site and receive comments in response. “If someone mentions on Facebook they’re celebrating something important I don’t hesitate to offer a ‘mazel tov’ comment. Condolences following a death are a little trickier,” Lewis says. “For people with whom I communicate mostly by Facebook, it seems appropriate, but I always write a personal message too. And if they don’t want to receive condolences via Facebook, they shouldn’t be announcing their loss on Facebook. For close friends and acquaintances, I still send paper cards or make a tribute gift in their loved one’s memory.”

With Facebook, birthday celebrants who once received only a handful of phone calls on their birthday now get hundreds of wishes annually. That can be a nice gift. As Niskar observed, “By notifying me of birthdays and allowing me to wish each person a ‘Happy Birthday,’ Facebook has enabled me to nourish my connection to old friends at least once per year. It makes the other person feel good, which in turn makes me happy.”

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Detroit Jewish Nonprofit Competes in Facebook Contest to Win $250,000

Thousands in Metro Detroit’s Jewish community have been flocking to Home Depot’s Facebook page in recent weeks. No, they are not all interested in becoming fans of the national retail giant. They are simply trying to help a local social service agency win $250,000 from the Home Depot Foundation.

Jewish Family Service in Michigan was one of 12 nonprofits around the country to win a monthly prize of $25,000 cash and another $5,000 in Home Depot gift cards from the Home Depot Foundation this past January. That win put them in the competition for the Aprons in Action contest that will give away a total of a half-million dollars in March. JFS plans to use the cash prize for its Project Build! program, which provides JFS clients with safe and barrier-free homes through pro bono repairs and renovations provided by local builders, remodelers and suppliers.

While many nonprofits in the Jewish community are still trying to find their way in the new world of social media, online contests like the Home Depot Foundation’s Aprons in Action have pushed nonprofit organizations to create a social media strategy to get out the vote on Facebook, the social networking site that boasts more than 850 million users.

Retail giants like Target and Home Depot, as well as large corporations like Toyota and Ford Motor Company, have drawn millions of Facebook users to their corporate and foundation “Fan Pages” through their online contests.

These crowd-raising initiatives have required nonprofits to familiarize themselves with such 21st-century terms as “social clout,” “social analytics,” “network amplification,” “true reach” and “social media influence.” Additionally, these nonprofits that compete in the contests have to quickly bolster their own online social identity to broadcast their participation in the contest. Many of these nonprofits are trying to raise their online presence on a shoestring budget, if they have allocated any marketing funds to social media at all.

In most cases, competing in such online contests is a gamble for the nonprofits because they don’t know what their return on investment will be, and they are allocating a lot of resources, including staff time, to the cause. JFS has recruited Jewish professionals and lay leaders in the community to reach out to their own networks to encourage daily voting on the Home Depot Foundation Facebook page during March. Local members of the Jewish community were asked to include reminders on their social networking sites and in email signatures. Some also participate in “post-a-thons,” where volunteers gather at a site and recruit voters via laptop postings. Additionally, JFS offered a daily email reminder service to increase its odds of securing the most votes.

“The Home Depot contest, as well as our success last summer at winning Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition, has made us aware that everything we do needs to have a social media layer,” explained Perry Ohren, CEO of JFS. “This has profound meaning in terms of our timing and our message. Timing has to be instantaneous and our message has to be short and engaging.”

One organization that has found much success in using its social reach to garner the votes needed to win online contests is Chabad Lubavitch. The international organization headquartered in Brooklyn exploits social networking not only to broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, have used Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in national contests for six- figure grants by Chase Community Giving and Target Stores.

In a Facebook contest sponsored by Kohl’s Cares, 12 Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with 11 of those schools being Chabad-affiliated. Friendship Circle of Michigan, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote.

Through these online contests, major corporations are able to donate funds to social service organizations, but it’s not completely altruistic. After all, the corporations are attracting a lot of attention to their brand. In the case of Home Depot, they are able to get thousands of people to visit their Facebook page each day for a month and look at their corporate logo, even if it is subliminal advertising. That is valuable advertising for the company and the half-million dollar investment is a small fraction of the retail giant’s more than $1 billion advertising budget.

Foundations for these large companies, like the Home Depot Foundation, have to make large charitable gifts each year so they figure they should at least help promote their corporate brand in the process.

Regardless of the motivation behind these online contests, it is certain that they have been the driving force in getting nonprofits to focus more on social media strategies. Hopefully, when there’s no large cash prize at the end of the rainbow, nonprofits will continue to utilize social media to promote theircause, raise awareness about their mission and solicit donations.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News and posted on the eJewishPhilanthropy.com blog

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

FaceGlat Gets Hacked Again

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

FaceGlat, the ultra-Orthodox social networking site, is an attempt to offer Haredi Jews the experience of Facebook without all the immodesty. From the opening page it reminds one of public restrooms with a sign for men to enter through one door and women to enter through their own door. FaceGlat’s name is a mashup of Facebook and glatt, the term for kosher meat considered to be a higher standard of kosher because of the source animal’s smooth lungs. The site lets users do most of the same things they can do on Facebook (post photos, set up groups, create events, and post status updates), but it filters out objectionable language and keeps the sexes totally separate.

Of course it’s not Facebook, with its billion dollar, advertising revenue stream, and 800 million accounts. There are also flaws in its attempt to keep the site totally modest. For one thing, there’s not much to keep a woman from setting up an account in the men’s section or vice versa. In terms of the language controls, users can figure out creative ways to express themselves with abusive language (alternative spellings and a few special characters from the top of the keyboard can be helpful in that regard). Apparently, there’s also no way to keep users from posting the same indiscreet photos that prompted the creation of FaceGlat in the first place. Eric Mack, reviewing the FaceGlat site for CNews, was surprised when he signed on to find a thumbnail of a mostly naked, tattooed young man with a Latino surname on his list of suggested possible friends. So, it looks like FaceGlat isn’t as pure and holy as it set out to be.

Keeping those who don’t abide by the strict modesty rules of FaceGlat off the site is no longer the site administrator’s first priority. Hackers have become more dangerous to FaceGlat than immodest people setting up user accounts. For the second time this week, pro-Palestinian protesters have hacked into the FaceGlat site and changed the homepage to read “Free Palestine” in the colors of Palestine.

FaceGat was able to regain control of its site yesterday, but the hackers have struck again. This time they’ve chosen a romantic Arabic love song with a dance beat to begin playing when the FaceGlat site is accessed. The hackers signed their handiwork as “Hacked By Challenges HackerS” with a message to the administrators of the site: “[ Sorry Admin .. But Your Security Is Down ] [ From Jordan .. Palestine HackerS ].”

The bottom of the hacked website has a message for FaceGlat: “[ This Website Has Been Hacked By Challenges-HackerS| PaLeSTiNe – HaCKeRs | , If I Can Change The Domain i will do my best but i cant , so i will just put this index here , and to tell the owner of this site that am gonna get his pc soon or later , palestine is the best of the best , we will never stop hacking , Until you stop killing our brothers and sisters and mothers in palestine , the day is coming ] . : : Challenges-HackerS : : . | | ~#~ Ml7s Hacker ~#~ DrZero Hacker ~#~ Sn!peR Hacker.”

If FaceGlat intends to maintain a modest social networking site for its ultra-Orthodox adherents it will need to invest in some strong website security. While the site was never intended to be political or especially pro-Israel, these pro-Palestinian hackers from Jordan seem adamant to use FaceGlat to post their own status update.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Social Media and Religion

I read yesterday’s article in the NY Times about how people are interacting with religion through social networking sites like Facebook and was amazed at the success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page. It is one of the most popular Facebook pages with over 8.5 million fans. I figured there should be a similar Facebook page that offers users a daily dose of Torah wisdom so I created the Torah Daily Facebook page this morning. The page quickly amassed 100 followers and will continue to grow. The Torah Daily Facebook page will offer daily inspiration from Jewish texts provided by anyone with some wisdom to share.

Here is the blog post I published on The NY Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog after reading yesterday’s NY Times article on social media and religion:

With about a billion users between Facebook and Twitter alone, more topics than just Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are being discussed on social media networks today. Religion is certainly one of them.

An article by Jennifer Preston in yesterday’s NY Times (“Jesus Daily on Facebook Nurtures Highly Active Fans”) reports that “while it’s too early to say that social media have transformed the way people practice religion, the number of people discussing faith on Facebook has significantly increased in the last year, according to company officials. Over all, 31 percent of Facebook users in the United States list a religion in their profile, and 24 percent of users outside the United States do, Facebook says. More than 43 million people on Facebook are fans of at least one page categorized as religious.”

The article was prompted by the wild success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page, which was launched by a diet doctor from North Carolina who posts a few motivational quotes from Jesus each day. The Facebook page, created by Dr. Aaron Tabor, has close to 8.5 million fans and, according to AllFacebook.com, in the past three months has had more daily interaction (likes and comments) than the official Justin Bieber page with 3.4 million interactions last week alone.

There are now over 750 million people on Facebook so it shouldn’t be surprising that users are interacting with pages to find an online spiritual community. If you’re already navigating around the Facebook site on a computer, tablet or mobile phone it’s much easier to read a spiritual teaching in your news feed than to actually attend a synagogue or church service.

Rabbi Laura Baum, a social media maven who is part of OurJewishCommunity.org was quoted in the article explaining how social media has changed our lives. She said, “There are those people who prefer to check out our tweets on their phone or listen to our podcast. I don’t think the use of technology needs to be for everybody. But we have found a community online. Many of them have never felt a connection to Judaism before.”

An increasing number of synagogues have found that it is much easier to connect to the membership through a Facebook page than through a traditional website. Like a website, the Facebook page is an efficient way of disseminating information for a congregation, but it adds the social interaction features that promote community and have made Facebook the killer app of social media. Linda Jacobson, the president of start-up congregation B’nai Israel Synagogue in Michigan has used Facebook to connect with members and reach potential members. “Our website is great for publicizing calendar events, displaying photos and telling visitors about our congregation. But Facebook goes well beyond that,” Jacobson explained. “It allows our followers to interact with that information and with each other. There’s an entire ‘backchannel’ that brings people together virtually to share photos from our congregational programming, comment on lifecycle events, create sub-communities based on interest categories and coordinate meals when there’s a death in the congregation.”

Jacobson seems to have put social media to good use because she’s seen her congregation’s membership rolls steadily increase over the past year. Rev. Kenneth Lillard, author of “Social Media and Ministry: Sharing the Gospel in the Digital Age,” was also quoted in the NY Times article and he concurs that social media tools like YouTube, Twitter and Google Plus in addition to Facebook represent “the best chance for religious leaders to expand their congregations since the printing press helped Martin Luther usher in the Protestant Reformation.”

Beyond official synagogue Facebook pages, there are many ways in which users are looking to Facebook for spiritual insight and education. Some popular Facebook pages have been created by rabbis in an effort to share motivational teachings from the Torah. Rabbi David Wolpe, the popular author and spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has a Facebook page that boasts over 19,000 fans. Wolpe utilizes Facebook to offer short sound bites that both motivate and challenge his readers. He makes a point of trying to respond to all questions on the page as well, which is not an easy task for a busy pulpit rabbi and a highly sought-after speaker like Wolpe. One follower asked if the rabbi had any marriage advice to which Wolpe responded simply “Shared values; forgiveness; deep attraction; resilience; luck; faith.”

One thing that social networking sites like Facebook have demonstrated is that one need not be an official religious leader, like a priest or rabbi, to dispense wisdom to help guide people in their daily lives. Many individuals and businesses offer a daily prayer or spiritual teaching to inspire their followers on their Facebook pages. Some Facebook users may post an inspirational teaching as a status update. There are businesses that post weekly motivational quotes on their Facebook page as a way to engage their following.

As social media increasingly become part of our daily lives, people will find new ways to interact with religion and spirituality. For some, it may be interacting with like-minded people on a synagogue Facebook page. For others it may be learning a different Talmud text each day through a Twitter feed. In the Digital Age, a minority of virtual religionists will emerge. These will be individuals who do not affiliate with a bricks and mortar religious institution like a synagogue, but are nevertheless engaged in many aspects of a faith community through social networking. Increasingly, people will say they are religious or spiritual or inspired by religious texts, but only because they have chosen to plug in and engage with social media.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Group or Private Social Network for Synagogues?

In my last year of rabbinical school, I had an interesting conversation with a rabbi of a large congregation. He told me that he had put his foot down and refused to let his congregation create a synagogue-wide email LISTSERV. His rationale? This forum would be used by the membership to complain about the synagogue… and the rabbi.

I gently suggested to my future colleague that if his members were going to use an email discussion group to complain about the congregation, they were likely already doing this in real-time at kiddush (the reception following services). He laughed and acknowledged I was correct. I’m sure that in the ensuing years he acquiesed and allowed for an email LISTSERV.

Developed in 1986 by Eric Thomas, LISTSERV was the first email list software application. The simple LISTSERV, an automated mailing list manager, allowed for likeminded individuals in a group to disseminate email messages to one another. The features of such a platform were minimal. The threads were difficult to follow. In digest format, there were several discussions arriving in the inbox all at once with no logical grouping order. Today, the email LISTSERV has long since run its course. Even the next generation of these discussion groups (Yahoo! Groups, Deja News which became Google Groups, the London-based GroupSpaces, etc.) are limited in features.

Today, Facebook has made these discussion groups unecessary. The Facebook Group application allows for the dissemination of rich content in a secure, private network. I have helped many synagogues transition from the old LISTSERV and email-based group platforms to the Facebook Groups application. As I tell rabbis and synagogue executives all the time: There are over 750 million Facebook users worldwide so there’s a good chance that your congregants are already signed on.

Facebook Groups allow for smaller cohorts within a congregation to have a forum to share ideas, documents, links to articles, photos, videos, and promote events. It is private and secure with at least one administrator monitoring the group.

Recently, when encouraging synagogues to start using the Facebook Groups application, I’ve been met with some resistence. Facebook isn’t secure, they argue. They’ve heard that there is really no privacy with Facebook. They argue that a Private Social Network must be the way to go. I disagree and here’s why.

Private Social Networks are certainly great apps and they have features galore. At first glance, applications like SocialGO and Yammer seem like the perfect solution for a company or organization that wants to have a social network that is open to only their employees or members. For many companies, these private social networks might make the most sense because once the employees are logged into Facebook, there will likely be many hours of unproductivity.

Synagogues and temples are different however. In that respect, I say use the network where the members are already participating. And that is obviously Facebook.

The Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly recently announced a deal through a partnership with SocialGo that allows member rabbis to contract with the private social network company to create a web-based social network for their congregation. These private social networks have all the features and functionality as Facebook Groups, but cost a discounted $500 and then $25 per month. Facebook is free and everyone already has an account (or knows how to get one simply enough). Having people log in to another platform is tedious when they are already using Facebook on a daily basis and can simply use the Groups application to interface with the congregation’s forums.

In terms of privacy, these Facebook Groups are just as private as LISTSERV groups were and continue to be. One must request to be a member of the group or be invited to participate in the discussions and view the content. Breaches of privacy can happen the same way there can be a breach of privacy from a face-to-face conversation. A group is only as private as its members allow it to be. The bottom line is that congregations shouldn’t complicate matters by creating their own private social network. It’s unnecessary. Save your money because Facebook Groups will work just fine.

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs Blog at The NY Jewish Week

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Tech Meetup Brings Jewish Techies Face to Face

Cross-posted at the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)

It’s not uncommon for tech savvy Jews in Cyberspace to develop online relationships with other Jews who frequent some of the same social networking sites and blogs. These relationships, however, often remain in Cyberspace. Sure, there are the occasional conferences and retreats in which techie Jews will meet in the “real world,” but most of the communication takes place online.

These friendships transcend geographical limitations. The discussions take place on Facebook and Twitter and in the comments section of blogs. They span across several time zones and don’t discriminate between denominational affiliation. While these friends in Cyberspace won’t run into each other at the grocery store or picking the kids up from school, they will be there to offer condolences upon the death of a relative or to share in the happiness of a simcha. Collaboration among this group is Jewish techies is common and start-up initiatives have been created in recent years to bolster the entrepreneurism of this community.

On May 16, Jewish New Media Activist Daniel Sieradski posted an announcement on his Facebook page. His announcement simply read, “Sign up for the inaugural Jewish Tech Meetup, June 16″ with a link to an event on the meetup.com website. A week later, on May 23, Sieradski tweeted that “The Jewish Tech Meetup sold out in just two days w/o even announcing a speaker. Talk about filling an obvious need…”

The event, hosted at Makom Hadash, will be an opportunity for Jewish techies to get together in “real life.” Hoping to make this into a monthly forum, Sieradski bills the event as a chance to discover what is happening at the intersection of Jewish life and technology. “The NYC Jewish Tech Meetup offers guest speakers, networking opportunities, and seasonal hackathons. Connect with your peers, hear the latest from the field, and explore opportunities for collaboration.”

He explained that “the NYC Jewish Tech Meetup seeks to bring together Jews who tech, either in or out of the Jewish community, for networking and professional development opportunities, as well as to get Jews -in- tech to bring their skills and ingenuity to the table to try to address some of the bigger challenges facing the Jewish community, particularly with regards to education, social welfare, and political organizing… The hope is to develop community and an open exchange of ideas between those doing IT for Jewish causes and Jews who know IT better than they do Judaism or Jewish issues.”

This event falls under the umbrella of Open Source Judaism, the initiative Douglas Rushkoff and Sieradski started in 2003 with the launch of Rushkoff’s book Nothing Sacred. Open Source Judaism seeks to promote openness, transparency and direct democracy in Jewish education and communal leadership. Sieradski describes the endeavor as being “fully inclusive, nondenominational and non-proselytizing (ie., we are not a religious organization) though we do engage issues of Jewish spirituality and education.”

Sieradski promises to announce the guest speaker for the June 16 event slated to take place at Hazon’s Makom Hadash, which is a residency center for second-stage Jewish non-profit organizations. Makom Hadash combines affordable space and office services with a community of colleagues and regular opportunities to learn, socialize and collaborate, it enables its member organizations to focus more on their missions, develop more sophisticated organizational infrastructure and collaborate more effectively together. “Founded in 2010, Makom Hadash now offers space for up to 27 full-time workers; a few spaces for resident organizations are still available. Stage II, slated for completion later in 2011, will expand capacity to 45 seats. In addition, organizations not requiring full-time office space can join the center’s community as non-residents members, using Makom Hadash for drop-in space and office services, and to connect with Jewish non-profit colleagues.”

Over the past few years, the level of collaboration among tech savvy Jews, both in and out of the Jewish communal world, has been impressive so it will be interesting to see what happens when they’re actually in the same room.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Bubbie and Zaydie Enter the Social Media Cloud

Here’s my recent post for the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week


When I first logged on to Facebook in 2004 none of my real life friends had accounts yet. At that stage in the social networking site’s development, a Facebook account was only for university students (or at least anyone with a university email account). I was working at a campus Hillel and my .edu email address gave me access to Facebook so I could interface with the Jewish students on campus.

At that time it was mostly undergrads who were poking each other, updating their status, and uploading photos to Facebook. As the years went by, Facebook welcomed young adults and then high school students. The non-student users seemed to get older and older until one Baby Boomer must have finally unlocked the Facebook door and told a few friends about it. Before you knew it — urgh! — Mom and Dad were uploading profile pics and stalking the neighbors’ pages.

You can’t blame Mark Zuckerberg for transitioning the site from Ivy Leaguer college kids to anyone in the free world with a pulse. After all, you can’t get to 550 million users without welcoming the Gen X’ers, emptynesters, and Medicare recipients, right?

So, it was only a matter of time until the generation that actually remembers Prohibition started getting Facebook accounts. Over the past few years I’ve gotten used to the “friend” requests from my parents’ cadre of friends. But when I was “friended” by my wife’s 90-year-old grandmother’s friend last week, I did a double-take. This 80-year-old woman didn’t just set up a Facebook page; she’s a power user. She’s uploaded dozens of photo albums (something my parents’ friends haven’t figured out yet), joined groups, and commented on everything. She’s even got a blog and a website (“The Bubbinator.com” — I’m not kidding!) with embedded YouTube videos of her telling Jewish jokes.

Based on the latest stats, I shouldn’t be surprised about this. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project “Generations 2010” study, the fastest growth in social networking usage “has come from internet users 74 and older: social network site usage for this oldest cohort has quadrupled since 2008, from 4% to 16%.” These great-grandparents, many of whom spent the majority of their lives without a home computer, are now using the Internet to seek health information, reconnect with friends and family, and purchase products. Facebook has even had to adjust to this new demographic storming the site. “Widowed” was certainly not a relationship option when Facebook first launched; and “It’s Complicated” just doesn’t fully describe when your husband of 55 years has passed away.

It could be that Granny realized the best way to stay connected to her children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren was to meet them where they are — in Cyberspace. So don’t be surprised if your News Feed lets you know that Zaydie likes Big Band Music or your Bubbie just blogged her favorite quiche recipe. The senior citizens have entered the cloud!

Reposted to eJewishPhilanthropy.com

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Chabad’s Social Media Success

Here’s my latest post on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week):

Chabad Lubavitch has always been out in front when it comes to using the Internet for publicity. Back in the 90’s, Chabad took full advantage of the virtual communities on America Online (AOL) and then launched some of the most impressive websites once everyone migrated to the Web. For years, Chabad has been a strong force in Cyberspace with “Ask the Rabbi” websites, online distance learning, and viral videos.

Today, Chabad utilizes social networking to not only broadcast its message globally, but to also win financial grants. Chabad schools and service organizations, like the Friendship Circle, use Facebook and Twitter to rack up hundreds of thousands of votes in contests for mega grants by such corporations as Chase Community Giving and Target Stores. In last month’s Kohl’s Cares contest, twelve Jewish day schools in the U.S. finished in the top 20 of the competition, with eleven of those schools being Chabad-affiliated according to the Lubavitch.com website (Each of the finalists received a $500,000 prize).

Last January, Chabad’s Michigan-based Friendship Circle, an organization dedicated to helping children with special needs, won $100,000 when it finished third in the Chase Community Giving Challenge on Facebook after using several social media tools to get out the vote. And this past summer, 17 Chabad programs across the United States each received $20,000 in the second running of the Chase challenge.

Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad.org and its social media guru explained Chabad’s secret in these online contests in a JWeekly article.

While scores of Chabad organizations may have started out as entrants in the Chase or Kohl’s challenges, the network as a whole figured out pretty quickly which ones had a serious chance of winning and then placed its chips on the potential winners. The method has proven to be especially valuable in the Kohl’s challenge, Seligson said. Each voter can vote a total of 20 times, and only five times for one school. Hypothetically that means if supporters of one school cast votes for the school five times, they each have 15 votes left. Those voters may then cast five votes each for three other Chabad schools. During the Chase challenge, it became clear that the Chabad-affiliated Friendship Circle of Michigan had a shot at winning a prize, so the other 100 Friendship Circle outposts throughout the United States rallied behind their Michigan counterpart. It’s not cheating or skirting the rules, Seligson said, it’s just actualizing a social network effectively.

Fellow Detroiter Ronelle Grier recently wrote an article on Chabad’s social networking prowess for Chabad.org. In one section of her article she writes that two Chabad leaders, the Friendship Circle’s Bassie Shemtov and “The Recovery Rabbi” Yisrael Pinson (#recoveryrabbi) were speakers at the recent #140conf in Detroit. I also attended the conference, presented by Jeff Pulver, and heard several comments from participants about how Chabad’s exploitation of social media is so impressive and a model for other organizations. Grier writes,

Rabbi Zvi Drizin, who considers social networking essential to promoting the activities of InTown Chabad, his Dallas-based organization geared toward young adults who have finished college, but are not yet married. He makes extensive use of Facebook to announce events, share interesting links and idea, and post photos taken at recent programs.

“When you decide to go to any party, the first thing you ask is who’s going to be there,” he says. “People have always moved with their friends. If you have a good network, it expands your appeal.”

At a recent Shabbat dinner, Drizin planned for 80 people. After he posted details of the event on Facebook, 150 people showed up at his door.

While Rabbi Yisrael Pinson lives and works in my community, it is really through Twitter that we’ve gotten to know each other. He’s been successful in his addiction recovery work because of his social media connections. In Grier’s article, Pinson said that Rabbi Menachem Schneerson would likely have approved of the use of such tools in the advancement of Judaism. “The Rebbe was a champion of using new tools for the promotion of Jewish values and spirituality. His talks were broadcast over the radio when that was the revolutionary medium. So too, it’s fitting for us to be at the forefront of this revolution. Social networking’s value lies in its ability to connect seemingly discordant strands of humanity. The person you meet may not be the one who can help you, but he may know the person who will end up helping you.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Saying Sorry with Social Media

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Is tweeting teshuvah a cop out?

Last Yom Kippur, I delivered a sermon explaining how Jewish people have begun “doing teshuvah” — seeking repentance from others — through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. A week before Yom Kippur the religion editor of The Detroit Free Press, Niraj Warikoo, called to find out what I’d be speaking about on the Day of Atonement. My topic interested him and he wrote a cover story about how some people spend the week before the holiday asking acquaintances for forgiveness for perceived wrongdoings by offering blanket apologies in their Facebook status updates and tweets.

Several newspapers, blogs, and the AP picked up the story from the Free Press. Warren Riddle on Switched, AOL’s tech blog, wrote, “At least one member of the Jewish clergy, Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, is asserting that the rise of social networking is diminishing the significance of repentance. He believes that people are using sites like Facebook and Twitter to issue mass, unspecific apologies in order to eliminate uncomfortable, individual personal interaction. Miller said that, in order to protect the true meaning of Yom Kippur, ‘There should be an effort, a little challenge to go up to another person and seek forgiveness, to admit our wrongdoing.’ Incorporating technology into religious holidays and services is a hotly debated issue. Some groups welcome modern and creative ways of attracting new members, specifically young folks, while other religious leaders bemoan technological advances. Miller’s comments, though, should cross all denominations. Some sentiments and feelings are best and most effectively expressed in person — unless, of course, you’re comfortable with your failures being eternally stored for public judgment.”

Of course, I’m sure that when it became possible to send letters quickly through the postal service, there were rabbis who felt that it wasn’t appropriate to send requests for teshuvah through the mail. And when the telephone was invented, there must have been opposition to this impersonal way of seeking repentance. Just like several years ago when many questioned if it was appropriate to offer forgiveness in an email message. While face-to-face is undoubtedly the best way to seek true repentance from our friends and family, we must also face the reality that social networking and text messaging are how many of us communicate on a daily basis, and some will use those media to apologize before Yom Kippur.

My recommendation, however, is that if you are going to ask someone for teshuvah on Twitter of Facebook, at least make it a personal plea and send the message privately.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller